The economy may be improving, but prices, it seems, are still sky high - and we're all looking to save money. And you know what saving money means: cutting back on "luxuries." But which ones?
Honestly, are there really any luxuries any more? Cellphones used to be in that category, but since the powers that be have more or less eliminated pay phones, they've become a necessity for anyone who has to contact work or home on the road. Cars are a luxury only if you live in the center of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and have enough money to take taxis when you need to. Your annual vacation? Absolute necessity - if you want to retain your sanity, that is!
If cutting is out of the question, then maybe "downmarketing" can be an option; for example, using a cheaper product or "house brand." In some cases, cheaper products are perfectly acceptable substitutes, but in others, the switch isn't as successful. For example, for gas from discount stations versus gas from full-price stations, substituting works. When it comes to "fake" vs "real" Bissli, however, it doesn't.
One area where the cheap - as in free - alternative works as well, or even better, than the full-price version is satellite/cable TV. Because of the broadcasting and pricing policies of both YES and HOT, and the geopolitics of opinion-making in the Arab world, Israeli consumers can get broadcasts at least as good (some would say better) using a satellite dish and a digital receiver.
As it turns out, the age of terrestrial analog TV broadcasting - where you attach "rabbit ears" to your TV and turn on the set - is almost over anyway. Sometime next year, analog broadcasts of Channels 1, 2 and 10 will be ending (http://www.godigital.co.il/tv-israel-eng.htm); to watch any TV you will have to shell out for a Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) decoder.
Experimental DTT broadcasts began in August, and you can buy decoders (they run between NIS 300 and up, depending on features) in many electronic stores already. Note that as the time for DTT broadcasts to take effect draws near, the price of the decoders is likely to drop.
But if you're a TV maven, you've probably subscribed to either YES or HOT, paying upward of NIS 200 a month for the various "channel packages" the companies are so good at marketing. But what are you getting for your money? Last year's sitcoms (and a very poor selection of them); endless repeats of B movies (except for a very occasional blockbuster); and, worst of all, endless "promos" for the most tasteless programs that air during prime adult time - broadcast during the hours kids are watching and even on the channels geared to them!
As a (now former) YES subscriber, this was my biggest beef with the company, and it seems to be a concern of many YES customers, based on what people tell me. Since YES and HOT are not allowed to accept ads (yet), I suppose this is their way of "breaking up" their programming. But couldn't they find a better way?
As it turns out, those same last year's sitcoms and B movies with the occasional blockbuster - sans the tasteless promos - are available for free to owners of satellite dishes and a satellite receiver pointed at the southern sky and aimed at the Amos and Nilesat satellites. Amos, Israel's own communications satellite, carries the satellite broadcasts of Channels 1, 2, 10, the Knesset channel, Middle East TV and a Russian- English-language news channel, all free to air (FTA), while Nilesat carries about 550 FTA channels.
Most of them are in Arabic, of course, but about a dozen or so entertainment channels "speak English," broadcasting the same mix of movies and TV series that you get on the YES and HOT entertainment channels. For free: meaning that there are no subscription fees to pay to anyone; once you pay for the satellite receiver and/or satellite dish, you don't have to shell out another shekel.
Dubai provides no fewer than six channels with English-language programming, including some series available on the YES and HOT channels, and three movie channels, which to me are indistinguishable from the YES movie channels. In addition to the Dubai FTA channels (their schedules can be seen at http://www.dmi.ae/dubaione/ and http://www.mbc.net), Fox provides an entertainment and movie channel (see http://www.foxme.tv/ and http://www.foxmoviestv.com/, click on the "English" button). And, there are a couple of others available as well (see http://www.city7tv.com and http://kuwaitlink.localweb.com/ktv2/).
Along with CNN, Euronews (http://www.euronews.net/, broadcasting in five languages), several other news stations and even a couple of sports and children's channels with partial English-language programming - supplementing the regular Israeli TV channels - you've got a full and complete TV package, quite similar to what you get with YES and HOT. Minus the tasteless promos (replaced by Arabic-language commercials for things like Cadillacs, Doritos and Kentucky Fried Chicken) and the price, that is.
The FTA stations broadcasting to the Arab world even include stations that you would have to subscribe to in other parts of the world, like Nickelodeon and MTV Arabia (the latter broadcasting exclusively in English, and a lot less "racy" than other MTV channels). I suppose it's part of the efforts to "win the hearts and minds" of Arab populations of less-than-friendly countries; MBC Persia, for example, is designed specifically to deliver Hollywood blockbusters with Farsi subtitles to Iranians.
You can certainly see plenty of examples of the radicalism taking hold in Muslim countries on some of the other 525 Arabic-language stations (if you've ever wanted to watch Hizbullah, Hamas or Fatah TV, here's your chance).
You can buy satellite receivers from a number of suppliers, both online and off (http://www.thm.co.il/ sells various models for between NIS 255 and NIS 725). Depending on where you live and how the dish is positioned, you may be able to pick up many Nilesat stations using an 80-centimeter YES dish (if you're a current customer); YES tends not to remove the dishes when you cancel the service.
For guaranteed reception, install a one-meter dish (a do-it-yourself kit costs NIS 525 at http://www.thm.co.il/; in any case, you can get the Israeli stations without upgrading the dish). Or for a bit more, you could have a pro put together the system for you. Either way, your ROI (return on investment) will be no more than a few months, taking into account the money you'll be saving on your cable or satellite subscription. It's like cutting out a luxury - but getting an even better substitute!